Thursday, April 09, 2015

Mystery and Love

I was listening to Brian Zahnd's Easter sermon yesterday and he used an awesome quote from Hans Urs Von Balthasar,

In the end, only something endowed with mystery is worthy of love. It is impossible to love something stripped of mystery; at best it would be a thing one uses as one sees fit.

I went back to write some of it down so I could google it, turns out BZ also used it in his book, "Beauty Will Save the World," (page 162, I think). I have no idea the context for Von Balthasar's original writing, but I know Zahnd uses it in the context of our love for God, to emphasize the importance of relationship and mystery to the Christian life.

In light of all that's been happening in Nazarene-world this week, it sure struck me as particularly beautiful in the reverse - as a means of explaining God's love for us, for all creation.

So often we think of God as this unmoved mover, to use the old philosophical phrase - God knows all, sees all, does all, with a sort of dispassionate fervor. We are prone to ascribe such a thorough immutability to God, God becomes almost impersonal.

We can go on and on about not putting God through the analytical lens of human self-understanding - which is a good critique and all - but it doesn't really ring true for me. If God knows us without mystery, there is no love. Love requires connection and not just superficial connections, not just good will or cursory relationship. Love requires a necessary attachment, a placing of one's own future in the hands of another - maybe not completely, but in some irrevocable manner. Love has to do this.

I believe God gives choice, that God has no choice but to give choice, real choice, not some fake, "I know what you're going to do before you do it," theological circus act. Love requires that sort of respect. Now I'm not saying we can control God, but we can affect God. We have to. Or God isn't really love and thus not really God.

I don't want to implicate Brian Zahnd in all this. I don't know how he'd respond to this notion - certainly with an open mind, but perhaps not an agreeable one.

At the same time, this quote, which he seems to like a lot, leads in precisely this direction. God knows human beings as well and as intimately as divinely possible - at the same time, we retain mystery. I believe that. I think I have to. If not, we're mere pawns in a cosmic manipulation; as Woody tells Buzz, "[We're] a child's play thing!"

The philosophers of old would tell us God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived. I can't think of a greater thing than God loving us enough to let us be free, loving us enough to spend an eternity loving us, if that what it takes for us to understand such love. And I do think it requires mystery.

I fret and complain and metaphorically pull out my hair over my complete inability to understand my wife (she does all that and more concerning me, as well). Just when you think you know a person... That's mystery. That's love. If we knew even the best person completely, fully, thoroughly, without mystery, they would become nothing more than an avenue for selfish indulgence - a play thing.

And if that's our lot - God all the more.

No. Love is something different. It has to be - and not just for us lowly humans, for all who are or express love.

God is love because while I believe absolutely that God holds the future, I don't believe God knows exactly how it will play out. That is profound, and beautiful, and lovely. And, to me at least, it just makes sense.

Tom Oord didn't teach me this (although I have to give him full credit for the traditional philosophical arguments utilized above). He didn't introduce it to me. He didn't tell me it was a good idea. I came upon this notion, in part, on my own. Other writers helped flesh the notion out a bit - great thanks to Greg Boyd there. I wrestled with it for a while and, at some point, became aware Tom Oord thought things like this weren't entirely crazy ideas. It helped alleviate some fear that I was going off the deep end or maybe moving away from the Nazarene foundation I so love.

It's certainly given new life and fresh excitement to the mystery of God and my passion for following Jesus Christ. Looking at things, even big, important things, from a different perspective does wonders for expelling fear and expanding horizons. I don't have much room or reason to doubt God anymore. I may doubt my perception of God, but that just adds to the mystery. Unboxing a once tame God is a good thing, even if it makes life and theology a bit messy. It's freeing, even if it's also daunting. It's not scary, though, despite it's mystery, because God, and this world God created, is just full of love.

1 comment:

Rich Schmidt said...

As you know, there are multiple occasions in Scripture that support the ideas you've expressed here about there being some mystery in the relationship God has with us. If not, then why does God come down to investigate to see if the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah is as bad as he's heard? Why would God test Abraham and then say, "Now I know that you fear God, because..."? Why would God tell Samuel, "I regret that I have made Saul king..."? And the list goes on and on.

And yet... if one of our professors teaches this, some among us try to get their credentials revoked and their job taken away. *sigh*